"I've always been intrigued by what happens below the surface, like what's happening where we can't see." While watching the slide-show on Mark's laptop I'm amazed at the detail of this 'other world' that's portrayed with his selection.
As an accomplished documentary photographer, in the past Mark has used the ocean as an escape for some solace away from his projects. Lately, while between projects he's been "hanging out" below the surface trying to capture what happens while swimming on a slow summer's day.
"Coming from a surfing background I used to wonder what happens when we're duck-diving, like, what it looks like from a different angle than what we can see. Kinda hard to explain but it has always been on my mind. I used to surf with a small video camera and housing attached to my helmet, (pauses) it worked surprisingly well but my neck couldn't take the impact and stress while trying to duck-dive and capture the right angle. Even tried to turn it back on myself to see what happens clearer but that, uh, sucked (laughs). I looked for a new approach to capture what I was seeking, which basically meant getting off the surfboard."
Surfing is a notoriously frustrating sport, where a number of elements have to be present for a good surf session. From the correct wind strength and direction, the correct tide for the reef or sandbar, or the correct swell direction for the location, all depending on swell being present on the day it's enough to make the most dedicated surfer take up tennis or cricket; something less elemental dependent. "So many times back home we've been driving through the bush for 2 hours only to find that the surrounding sand has covered the reef making it break wide or just weird...even if the 3 main elements are there, (wind, swell, tide) there's always a chance for something unexpected to ruin the trip."
As the Australian summer hits and Mark is city bound for the next few months with film commitments, he has been finding the angles he's always been looking for, even through the lack of quality waves.
"Last week near my house there was a pretty big swell...well, for Coogee anyway, and at the start of the school holidays there were kids everywhere being smashed in the shore-break. I was shooting for about 30 minutes when I was walking backwards as a wave started breaking to shoot the swimmers diving under when my legs were taken out beneath me sending me over the falls backwards."
Mark goes on to describe how he was pinned underwater by his weight belt, which was "no problem but the impact of the wave ripped the waterhousing out of my hand and snapped the leash leaving my housing and camera tumbling somewhere amongst the whitewater and swimmers. Managed to find it two waves later after a pretty frantic search, so stoked it didn't leak."
He's just returned from a week away in the South Australian desert, going to some remote places with a good friend who was willing to help capture the different angles Mark's been looking for, but hasn't had anyone to link up with. "Working with Mike pretty much achieved what I had been looking for around the beaches in Sydney; to add another element to the frame other than just surfers, lining it up when both the camera and swimmer are behind the wave added that extra point of interest."
Mark agrees that it's quickly turned from "something fun when there's no waves" into a product that's gaining recognition and respect from sources, worldwide, if the last few months are anything to go by we're sure to be seeing a lot more in the near future.
+ info: The Underwater Project